Sometimes our stories don’t fit in the world we currently live in. When that happens, we need to create worlds of our own. But world building can be pretty involved! If you’re creating your own fictional or fantasy world, it’s important to consider it from all angles and create a world that feels as real as the world we live our lives in.
If you don’t know where to start or what to consider when you’re building your fictional or fantasy world, this is the post for you! For each of these aspects, I would suggest basing your elements in details that are similar to our world. This will make your world more accessible for your readers. But, of course, that’s entirely up to you! 🙂
Here are twenty-one areas to develop to bring your world to life:
Is your world a world within our own like Harry Potter? Or does is it completely independent, like Lord of the Rings? If it’s located in our world, where exactly is it? Do the two worlds meet or impact each other at all?
It’s also possible that your world will somehow be a modification of our world with systems and organizations created just for your characters. For example, when I wrote my spy series, I had to create a spy agency and base of operations for my characters to live and work at. I set the series in Wilmington, DE, so that much is a part of our world, but I had to develop the base, protocols, and way of life. Even though I didn’t create a whole world, I did create the environment my characters live and work in, so I consider this to be light world building.
What does the terrain look like? Where is everything located? If you’re creating a whole other world, you have to consider the countries that make up that world, where they’re located in proximity to one another and any mountains/oceans/etc that might exist. These elements may not play a direct role in your book, but they’ll likely inform the background dynamics in your story.
Also, consider how each important city and town is laid out. This will help you, your characters, and your readers navigate your fictional world.
What type of animals and creatures are in your fictional or fantasy world and how are they used? Are horses the main form of transportation? If the creatures are magical or mystical, be sure to develop their powers and their limitations.
How to develop a magic system really needs its own post (which I’ll definitely make happen in the future). For now, it’s important to know that if you’re going to have magic in your book, consider how that magic works, where the power comes from, who can use magic, and what the consequences and limitations are. If you have different magic systems, you’ll need to develop them all fully.
5) Class division
Nearly every world has some type of class division. The haves and the have nots. What does the day-to-day life in each of your classes look like? Also consider how the classes interact with each other and any underlying tensions that may occur as a result of the division.
Who is in charge of your fictional or fantasy world? How did they come to power? What do the people think about this person as a leader? It’s natural for any civilization to put someone in charge. Even if the leadership doesn’t play a big role in the story, it’s still important for you and your character to understand who makes the rules in this world. This person will have played an active role in shaping your world even if they don’t play a super active role in your story.
7) Political Dynamics
This point is two-fold. First, what are the political dynamics within your character’s immediate world? People never agree on the best way to run their own town/city/country. What are the different political opinions and points of view? Second, what are the political dynamics in the world as a whole? How does your character’s town/city/country interact with the world around it? Do the neighboring towns/cities/countries get along, or is there a conflict brewing?
What type of government does your character’s world operate under? And what type of government does the surrounding area operate under? It’s probably best not to confuse your reader with a radically new form of government, but feel free to modify existing government structures to meet the needs of your world and society. Here’s an article from Scholastic on the forms of government if you need some help getting started.
What types of people live in your fictional or fantasy world? Are their different races? Are their magical races? Or are there some kind of genetic differences from our world? Note any basic similarities and differences with the people in your world compared to the people in ours. This will both help you highlight important aspects of your people, and help give your readers an understanding of what makes the people in your world unique.
What is the culture like in your fictional or fantasy world? What does the day-to-day life look like? Are there different cultures based on city and/or region? How does the culture vary by class? Is the culture bright and bold? Or more quiet and subdued? Considering questions like this will help inform a handful of other aspects of your world as well!
11) Monetary System
How do people of your world pay for things? If you look at this world, nearly every country has its own monetary system. That means yours needs one too! Figure out what counts as “expensive,” what’s “cheap,” and how are hard do your people have to work to earn the money you create.
What type of food do your people eat in your fictional or fantasy world? Are the big on spices? Or do they eat a lot of raw food? What would be served at a fancy dinner party and what would be considered “comfort food?” Think back to some decisions you made about your world’s culture. If it’s a bright and bold culture, spices or bold flavors might make the most sense. If it’s a calmer, more subdued culture, consider calmer and blander flavors.
What do your people believe? Is there a God or God equivalent? Are there multiple gods? Are there multiple conflicting beliefs? What other non-religious beliefs are held in your world? Do they believe in only working two days a week? Or that men can’t be trusted to be run a business? These beliefs will likely play into both your character’s motivation and any conflict that might come up.
14) Medicine and Illnesses
What types of illnesses do the people of your fictional or fantasy world encounter and how do they treat them? Do they rely on plant-based medicine? Or have they engineered some miracle cure for every ache and pain? Is there a devastating illness running ramped through your world? If there is, how contagious is it, how is it transferred, is anyone immune, and what’s being done to stop it?
What are people prejudice about in your fictional or fantasy world? Typically prejudices are deeply rooted in history and experience, so if there is some kind of prejudice, what happened in the past to create it? Is there a path to eliminating those prejudices? What role will this prejudice play in your story?
Is there a threat to your world’s way of life? Is there an outside country or person looking to upend the world your character lives in? Or is there some kind of risk for a natural disaster or disease that could severely damage the people in your world?
What is the history of your world? Was there a big war at any point in time? Was there a pivotal leader who was killed at some point? What events do the people in your world consider to be major aspects of their history? Do they celebrate any holidays based on a historical event? How long has your character’s town/city/country been in existence? At the very least, be able to point to 10 major historical events that shaped your town/city/country to make it what it is at the start of your story.
18) Natural Resources
What natural resources do the people of your world have access to? Where do they get their water from? What types of plants do they have? If they use these plants as medicine, what are the healing capabilities? Is there any natural resource that might be used for heat, or some other essential purpose? Are there any natural resources that are particularly valuable the way a diamond or other gemstone is in this world? How do you characters access these resources? If your natural resources are valuable enough, you may want to consider giving them a role in your story.
19) Centralized Gathering Places
Most civilizations have areas where people can gather. This may be a marketplace, a town square, a school, or a religious institution. Where might this gathering place be located geographically? What would be the main draw of the area? How busy is this place, typically? Are there different areas for different types of people? This type of location might be helpful to your story because it can give your characters a place to go for supplies and information.
20) Prominent Figures
Who are the prominent figures of your world? This may include leaders, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. It can be anyone who’s made an impact on your world’s growth and development. Consider both who might be a prominent figure today, and who has been a prominent figure in the past. For prominent figures of the past, are there any tributes or memorials to these people? Also keep in mind, “prominent” doesn’t have to mean they did good things for your world. Perhaps there are people who are known for the damage they’ve done.
What type of technology does your world have? How is your technology powered (if it’s powered at all)? How expensive is this tech? Who has access to it? How high tech your world is will not only impact what your characters can do, but also how much they can get away with. If your world is more low tech, your characters may not be able to talk to each other at the push of a button, but they also won’t have to worry about a security camera watching their every move. Keep these trade-offs in mind as you develop this element.
I hope this helps you create a fictional or fantasy world of your own!
Now it’s your turn: What did I miss? Tell me what you think about when you create a fictional or fantasy world in the comments!
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